a new dawn for the dowdy doppelganger

Dawn Langley Simmons (1937-2000) was born Gordon Langley Hall, the illegitimate son of Vita Sackville-West’s chauffeur.  

image of Gordon before becoming Dawn found here

“Jack Hitt, a journalist who grew up in Charleston across the street from Mrs. Simmons and wrote about her for GQ magazine, remembered her as a figure with a piercing stare, a pillbox hat and ”a Dippity-Do hairstyle, a dowdy doppelganger of Jackie Kennedy.’

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Mrs. Simmons was a person around whom legends swirled. She lived in a grand house filled with antiques and a hidden garden. She was said to have had a coming-out party for two of her dogs, who were displayed on velvet cushions in the living room, dressed in chenille, long gloves and pearls.

image found here

Mrs. Simmons was born with an adrenal abnormality that caused her female genitalia to resemble a male’s and was thus raised as a boy. She always maintained that she was — unequivocally — female. In his late teens, Mr. Hall emigrated to Ontario, where he worked as a missionary, teacher and midwife among the Ojibwa Indians, according to his book about his experiences, ”Me Papoose Sitter”. He also wrote books about Princess Margaret, Jacqueline Kennedy and American Evangelism.

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Moving to New York in his twenties, Mr. Hall met the actress Margaret Rutherford. She and her husband, Stringer Davis, were so enchanted with Gordon that they adopted him.

Stringer and Margaret found here

During that time Gordon also befriended the painter Isabel Whitney, who left him $2 million at her death in 1962. He moved to Charleston, settling into a faded 1840 house on Society Street in the Ansonborough section, which had a large gay population. He became friendly with Charleston’s grandes dames, restored his house and filled it with Chippendale furniture, mirrors said to belong to George Washington, and bed steps said to have been owned by Robert E. Lee.

image by Joan Perry found here

Then in 1968 Gordon underwent a sex change operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and became Dawn Pepita Langley Hall. The following year she married her 22-year-old black butler, John-Paul Simmons. The publisher of ”Dawn: A Charleston Legend” was quoted as calling it the first documented interracial marriage in Charleston’s history. A bomb threat forced the couple to move the wedding from a Baptist church to the bride’s home, and the gifts were destroyed by a firebomb.

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In England, Miss Rutherford was reported to have said, ”I am delighted that Gordon has become a woman, delighted that Dawn is to marry a man of another race, and delighted that Dawn is to marry a man of a lower station, but I understand the man is a Baptist!

John the Baptist found here

Soon, Mrs. Simmons appeared to be pregnant. Then in 1972, she began strolling with a baby carriage bearing a little girl whom she called Natasha. In 1974, after a period of turbulence in which she accused her husband of selling her belongings to buy whisky, the family moved to Catskill, N.Y. Some time later, Mr. Simmons was confined to a mental institution near Albany. 

Dawn died in September 2000. Her daughter asked that she be remembered as the family woman she was, devoted to her children.

Ronald loves Harry who loves Gaby who just wants a pearl necklace

Ronald Firbank (1886-1926) was already a published author and a fully formed personality by the time he entered Cambridge at the age of nineteen.

Ronald Firbank

“In 1907 he converted to Catholicism, a religion whose ornate rituals, costumes, symbols, and pageantry provided him with a vehicle through which to express his homosexuality obliquely. Firbank visited Rome with the intention of taking holy orders; however, as he later revealed in a letter to Lord Berners, “The Church of Rome wouldn’t have me, and so I mock her.” Accordingly, his fiction is populated with a ribald gallery of homosexual choirboys, lesbian nuns, cross-dressing priests, salacious bishops, flagellants, and self-canonized saints.

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His last and most explicitly gay work, Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, appeared in 1926, the same year as Firbank’s early death at the age of forty. The book begins with the cardinal baptizing a police puppy named Crack, and ends when the naked cardinal drops dead while pursuing a choirboy named Chicklet around his church.”

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Gaby Deslys (1881-1920) was a famous French dancer and actress of the early 20th century.

Gaby

“She had many admirers among royalty, most notably Manuel II of Portugal. Deslys became a celebrity following newspaper stories which gossiped about King Manuel’s infatuation with her. Manuel is thought to have given Deslys a pearl necklace worth $70,000 after first meeting her in Paris in July 1909. More gifts soon followed. One was a diamond necklace with black and white pearl drops set in a platinum band. Deslys cultivated a pearl fetish. She collected so many that before she died she said she owned her weight in them.

Gaby

Her American feature film debut was in 1915 with Her Triumph costarring her dancer boyfriend Harry Pilcer. The film is lost but surviving stills show a scene with Deslys and Pilcer and also the intro card with Deslys’s picture in the credits. Deslys made only two more French silent films in 1918 and 1919, both with Harry Pilcer in the cast, before getting the illness that would take her life.


Harry

Her carved and gilded bed, in the form of an enormous swan, was bought at auction by the Universal Studios prop department, and was used in the 1925 film of “The Phantom of the Opera”. In 1950 it was in “Sunset Boulevard” as the bed of Norma Desmond.

According to Beverley Nichols, Gaby spent most of her stage career stalking up and down staircases in the traditional manner. When Ronald Firbank first saw Harry Pilcer dance, he was chasing Gaby up one of her staircases at the time. Firbank was so overwhelmed that he rushed out and bought a huge bunch of orchids which he sent to Pilcer’s dressing room accompanied by an invitation to supper.

“Whether Pilcer ever got the flowers we shall never know; he gave no answer. Whereupon Firbank, with tears streaming down his face, returned to the theatre. Still sobbing, he advanced to the front row and walked slowly along by the side of the orchestra pit, tossing cypripediums and odontoglossums with tragic gestures to the astonished musicians. “

Orchid Mantis found here



Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 7:38 am  Comments (38)  
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poodles and pearls

The divorce decree of Margaret, Duchess of Argyle took four and a half hours to read.

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On the basis of the evidence, declared the judge, the duchess, 49, “was a completely promiscuous woman whose sexual appetite could only be satisfied by a number of men.” He named four specific adulterers including John Cohane, a U.S. businessman living in Ireland whom the court described as a “self-confessed wolf” with “the morals of a tomcat” and an unidentified partner who had been photographed in the nude with the duchess.

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The Argylls’ litigation, which has dragged on for 3½ years, was the longest, most expensive and most sensational in Scottish history. And it may not be over, since the duchess still faces charges of libel and conspiracy stemming from her own divorce petition against the duke, which she dropped last May. In that suit, she accused her husband of committing adultery with her stepmother.”

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In 1943, the Duchess who was then known as Margaret Sweeny had a near fatal fall down an elevator shaft while visiting her chiropodist on Bond Street.

“I fell forty feet to the bottom of the lift shaft,” she later recalled. “The only thing that saved me was the lift cable, which broke my fall.

After her recovery, Sweeny’s friends noted that not only had she lost all sense of taste and smell due to nerve damage, she also had become sexually voracious. As she once reportedly said, “Go to bed early and often.” (Given her numerous earlier romantic escapades, including an affair with the married George, Duke of Kent in her youth, this may have been a change in degree rather than basic predisposition.)

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Introduced into evidence in the 1963 divorce case was a series of Polaroid photographs of the Duchess nude apart from her signature three-strand pearl necklace. Also included were photographs of the bepearled duchess fellating a naked man, and though the photographs showed his genitalia and torso, they excluded his face.

Also introduced to the court was a list of eighty-eight men the Duke believed had enjoyed his wife’s favours; the list is said to include two government ministers and three royals.

The duchess never revealed the identity of the “headless man,” though it was widely believed to be Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who denied the allegation to his grave.

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She once told the New York Times, “I don’t think anybody has real style or class any more. Everyone’s gotten old and fat.” To the end of her life, her superficiality remained superbly intact, as evidenced by one characteristically vapid quote: “Always a poodle, only a poodle! That, and three strands of pearls!” she said. “Together they are absolutely the essential things in life.”

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 8:25 am  Comments (35)  
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